Updated March 30 at 11:30am
information technology

Five Questions With: Jason Pamental

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Jason Pamental is an architect with Newschoolyard.com, a Web platform for independent schools, and also a Web strategy, design and technology consultant.

Pamental has served as director of interactive/technology for (add)ventures and as the director of Web services for North Sails. His roots, however, extend as far back as the development of PBN.com, which he worked on in 1997 while still attending Rhode Island College.

PBN: So, what’s on your mind?

PAMENTAL: It’s a really interesting time to be involved in the Internet industry, particularly in Providence. There’s an amazing community here between Providence Geeks, RI Nexus, Pecha Kucha, the various meetups for PHP developers, WordPress, Drupal (I organize that one), UX designers and conferences like Better World by Design and of course BIF. Not much of that existed even just a few years ago. It’s made it a whole lot easier to work on your own but still be a part of a scene, find people to collaborate with and do some really amazing work.

And as far as talent goes – it’s just incredible. We have a half-dozen authors of some of the best books in Web design and technology right here in Providence! The technology available to us now has come a long way too. HTML5, CSS3 and Open Source platforms like Drupal and WordPress make it possible to take on projects of all sizes with small, nimble teams and produce stuff for all kinds of platforms: Web, mobile devices, IP-based television and more. I’ve been designing and developing sites on the Web since about 1994 and it just keeps getting more fun!

PBN: Tell us about your involvement with Newschoolyard.com.

PAMENTAL: I started working with Mark Bistline, the founder of Newschoolyard, about a year ago. He wanted to shake up the independent school Web market by developing a platform on open source technologies. I’ve worked with Drupal (an open source content management system) for several years, and it seemed like a natural fit. Matt Dutra of Rubic Design in Middletown put us together and the three of us started to develop the idea. My role was to design the overall system and guide the development of school sites.

We’ve built out the platform pretty thoroughly now and can create new sites very quickly. It’s a great way for schools to manage their own sites, getting the benefit of great, unique design without the huge costs of custom development. Our offering is roughly one-third of what is typical in the market and very sustainable. We’ve launched several sites already and have over a half-dozen more already in production.

PBN: I hear you’re scouting talent – how many people are you looking for? Do you think you’ll be able to find it locally?

PAMENTAL: We’re looking now for a designer, a developer and a project manager. I think that by the time this is [published] at least one hire will have been made, and I’m actively reviewing resumes with Mark now for the other two. We’ve seen some great talent locally and are excited about who we’ve met so far. There are some really talented people in the area.

PBN: I understand you also have a few other things going on.

PAMENTAL: I do. It’s been a really exciting few months and only seems to be getting more so. Since speaking at Future of Web Design, I’ve had some other speaking opportunities come up. I’ve been asked about doing some writing for Monotype’s Web Fonts site (they’re one of the largest typeface vendors around) and am teaching a graphic design course this semester at Rhode Island College. It’s a lot to manage in addition to the regular client work, but just what I hoped to be doing when I left [(add)ventures] just over a year ago. I couldn’t be happier!

PBN: “Web strategy is about using knowledge of your client’s business and your fresh perspective to find opportunities that transform your client’s business,” you said at the Future of Web Design Conference in New York this November. Sounds like a good idea but what do you “bring to the table,” so to speak, that the client couldn’t figure out on his/her own?

PAMENTAL: Thankfully, I think I can fairly say “a lot!” But that’s a bit flip and the fact is, it’s a lot more about what the business owner may not know that they don’t know. Web technology, design and usability are not native language for most people. They may know their own business very well, but they’re also very ingrained in the way they work and work around problems. My job is to study the Web, the trends … the new technologies … so I have those things in my arsenal and know them well enough to be instinctual in their application. That way, when I study my client’s business, the solutions come as second nature. The external perspective is important, too. I don’t do what they do every day, so when I look with fresh eyes. I see all the little things they do all the time to overcome limitations in process or technology, and it’s only natural for me to see ways to improve them through the use of Web and mobile solutions.

I think that too often what the client may ask for is too narrowly defined and will end up yielding far less value than they hope. By examining the challenges they are trying to overcome and studying how they go about their business, it’s often possible to suggest a slightly different solution - not necessarily costing more – that will deliver significantly greater return in both marketing value and in productivity gains, simply by building bridges between personnel and departments that were previously separate. When communication and collaboration increase, everybody wins. That’s something worth bringing to the table and just what I mean when I talk about Web strategy.

The reason I’ve been writing and speaking about it is that I believe strongly that the Web industry has for too long kept design and technology separate and has not devoted enough energy to developing those who embrace both. Those who do are the ones who will lead the industry, and the teams who will do the best work. Design and technology are the things that drive effective innovation in any organization, so it only makes sense to focus on where those elements come together.

You can find Jason Pamental at his website, Thinking In Pencil, or e-mail him at jason@thinkinginpencil.com.

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